By: Zack Lambert
Earlier today one of the more anticipated events of the first half of the season occurred: The Champions League Round of 16 Draw. As always we have giants facing off, scintillating rivalries rekindled, and tantalizing matchups to come. So let’s not waste any more time and get right into the thick of things.
Dortmund vs Paris Saint-Germain
This matchup immediately stood out to me not only because it was the first drawn, but also because of the recent dealings between the clubs. The most obvious come in the forms of Thomas Tuchel and Julian Draxler. Both men coached and played, respectively, for Dortmund before shipping out to the French juggernauts.
Paris are clearly the better team in terms of talent, sporting one of the more ridiculous attacks in the world, but this draw works for Dortmund. The away leg will be a tough one for the Parisians as Westfalenstadion is sure to be jumping. On the other hand, Le Parc des Princes isn’t known for its intense atmosphere and PSG are very injury prone. This could play out well for the German side.
Despite the favorable conditions for Dortmund, it’s a tall order to expect them to emerge from this matchup as the victor. Paris is disgustingly stacked with world class talent and Dortmund won’t be able to match up with them. The first leg may inspire hope but the French side will secure the victory at home.
1st Leg: Dortmund 1-1 Paris
2nd Leg: Paris 3-1 Dortmund
Aggregate: Dortmund 2-4 Paris
Real Madrid vs Manchester City
What a lovely matchup this will be. Real Madrid are finally finding their feet under some stability just while Manchester City seem to be finally wavering after a near 3 year stretch of dominance. These two should be on a level playing field with a pair of extremely intense fan bases at their backs. David Silva, Rodrigo, and Angeliño will all be returning to their home country while Gaerth Bale won’t be far from his. This will be exciting.
The Real attack should have a healthy Hazard and Lucas Vázquez back in their mix while Marcelo should be healthy on the left flank. This should bode well considering at least Hazard and Marcelo have valuable Champions League experience, plus they’re just fantastic players. If Zinedine Zidane’s club are to win this matchup then they’ll need all hands on deck, big game Gareth Bale included.
Manchester City are floundering a bit as their defense has been in a bit of disarray of late. Things have gotten better since John Stones returned but it’s Aymeric Laporte is still out and that’s not good for the English side. It’s even possible that Leroy Sane is back for City but playing him ahead of Sterling would be a huge surprise. Instead, City should rely on their potent attack that has served them well for years and is playing at the top of their game right now.
1st Leg: Real Madrid 2-2 Manchester City
2nd Leg: Manchester City 3-1 Real Madrid
Aggregate: Real Madrid 3-5 Manchester City
Atalanta vs Valencia
This pairing will likely be the least watched of the eight due to a lack of name and star power. Add injuries littered up and down the lineups and you have a very weak team advancing to the quarterfinals. Atalanta can score in droves but that means very little in the defense-void Serie A. Valencia relies on strong midfield play to facilitate and drive their game forward. Other teams will hope for Atalanta to advance, but that might be a tough task for the Italians.
Atalanta’s attack can seem unreal at times with a South American trio of Duván Zapata, Alejandro Gómez, and Luis Muriel driving home 19 goals to go with another 9 from Ilcic and Gosens. The defense and goalkeeping are clear flaws, however, with a very weak back 3 protecting an even weaker goalkeeper. The 3-4-1-2 can be difficult to match up with but won’t be difficult to score against.
Valencia works well with building up attacks. Their two banks of four with a pair of strikers gives plenty of options to swing the ball around the midfield while prodding for a through ball or deep ball in the corner. Like Atalanta, however, their defense can be exposed at any time. Their 27 goals in La Liga have been answered by 24 from their opponents, the only saving grace being an injured Jasper Cillessen whose return date is unknown.
1st Leg: Atalanta 1-2 Valencia
2nd Leg: Valencia 4-2 Atalanta
Aggregate: Atalanta 3-6 Valencia
Atlético vs Liverpool
Another great matchup between two historic clubs. One of the best things to watch in these meetings will be the coaching decisions; Klopp and Simeone are two of the most animated managers in history, not to mention two of the best. The moves and counters that are made in these games ought to make for a great meeting of the minds. The players are also world class on these teams. Both have great defenses and solid midfields, but the forwards of Liverpool have the advantage over the Atleti attackers.
The Spanish side looked incredible on paper at the beginning of the season, bringing Portuguese phenom João Félix into the mix of elite playmakers and defenders, but it’s fair to say that the further up the pitch you go, the more disappointment there has been. Jan Oblak has been great behind a drove of fantastic defenders. The midfield has been decent, Saúl, Thomas, and Koke have been the driving forces in the middle. The attack is simply lacking as Chelsea outcast Alvaro Morata is the only top performer, and even he has regressed lately. Players like Lemar, Félix, and Diego Costa need to step up to keep this team alive.
Liverpool have been fantastic this season on all levels. There were doubts when Allison went down at the beginning, but the storm has been weathered and things are back to normal. Virgil van Dijk leads the fantastic defense, Fabinho and Jordan Henderson power the midfield that just added a returning Naby Keïta, and the attack is fueled by two of the best pure goal scorers in the world at the moment, Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah. The whole team obviously has big game experience so they should be able to hold their own in the hostile Metropolitano.
1st Leg: Atlético 1-1 Liverpool
2nd Leg: Liverpool 2-1 Atlético
Aggregate: Atlético 2-3 Liverpool
Chelsea vs Bayern Munich
These two clubs have met 5 times in total and all but once was in the running for a cup. The first time was in the Champions League 2005, Chelsea advanced 6 goals to 5. The most recent was in a friendly in 2017. But right in the middle was one of the most memorable Champions League Finals of all. The 2012 Championship was headlined by Didier Drogba heading in a late equalizer and pounding in the winning penalty. This meeting won’t be taken lightly by either side.
Chelsea started their season with a pounding from Manchester United, brought things to a high with a string of wins in late October and November, but have since fallen back to decent levels. However they are free of injury and have a great attack and supporting midfield. Tammy Abraham is turning into a true talisman with Pulisic, Willian, Kovacic, and Kanté playing a crucial role in supporting him. The defense is suspect but Kepa has been at the top of his game recently, keeping the back line out of even warmer waters than they’re already in.
Bayern were able to cruise through their group, handing even Tottenham a traumatizing loss. However the first half of their campaign has been a costly one. Centre backs Hernandéz and Süle both going down with ligament issues. Süle will likely not play again this season but Hernandéz should be back for both matches. Luckily, Robert Lewandowski has been on an absolute tear with 18 league goals and 5 more in the Champions League. He leads Europe in league goals and should continue his form. Depending on how the league table looks at the time, Bayern could try to blow out the Blues in the first leg to rest in the 2nd.
1st Leg: Chelsea 1-4 Bayern
2nd Leg: Bayern 3-0 Chelsea
Aggregate: Chelsea 1-7 Bayern
Lyon vs Juventus
Juventus certainly pulled the easiest match of the top teams which may seem unfair because they certainly don’t need the rest. Juve’s wealth of talent is accentuated by their unreal depth as players like Adrien Rabiot are able to become frustrated with their playing time. The Bianconeri are dangerous in all areas of the field and should strike fear into their French opponents.
Lyon rely heavily upon the goal scoring prowess of Memphis Depay and Moussa Dembele which could be problematic as Depay is out for the season. The defense is suspect which will cause huge issues as Ronaldo and company won’t be interested in showing any mercy. It will take inspired performances to even keep these matches close.
Juventus should be able to rest their stars in the 2nd leg. In fact, they may put many of their key players on the bench in the first leg as well, keeping them in case of emergency. Their match against Inter may prove more important than the 1st leg considering they’re only 4 days apart. Regardless, Ronaldo, Higuain, and Dybala have all played incredibly well recently and are being backed by droves of world class midfielders and defenders. Plus with a backup keeper named Gianluigi Buffon, it’s safe to say that the goal is tended well.
1st Leg: Lyon 0-4 Juventus
2nd Leg: Juventus 5-0 Lyon
Aggregate: Lyon 0-9 Juventus
Tottenham vs RB Leipzig
This matchup might not have the biggest names involved, but we would be remiss to think that it won’t be entertaining. Tottenham will likely be transformed by the time these matches occur as Eriksen might be gone and Mourinho will keep impacting the London squad. Leipzig only have a few consistent players but mostly everyone plays well. These will be exciting matches for all.
Tottenham made a magical run at the European crown last season but weren’t able to top Liverpool in the final. This season things are clearly different and chief playmaker Christian Eriksen wants out and Jose Mourinho is now in charge. There’s still an abundance of attacking talent for Spurs but the defense might be problematic. Aurier and Vertongen are looking good but the other positions haven’t been great. Some shoring up in the transfer window could give Spurs the edge.
Leipzig don’t sport the same talent that Tottenham do but they are just as dangerous. Timo Werner is a legitimate scorer that is close to the lead in Europe as the Marcel pairing, Sabitzer and Halstenberg, have combined for 8 goals and 6 assists behind Werner. Add a strong defense with Upamecano, Konaté, and a returning Willi Orban, and you have a team that could move on over the current runners-up.
1st Leg: Tottenham 1-1 Leipzig
2nd Leg: Leipzig 2-2 Tottenham
Aggregate: Leipzig 3-3 Tottenham; Spurs advance on away goals
Napoli vs Barcelona
Last but certainly not least we have Napoli and Barcelona. For me this is the most anticipated matchup of the lot. Both teams sport wonderful players up and down the pitch and the competition between Messi and Koulibaly will be must watch television. Not to mention the high powered attacks that will certainly rain fire upon each other’s goals.
Napoli barely made it into the knockout rounds as there have been issues around the club all season. Many of the players are expecting to leave soon and some of the top performers haven’t been in form. Regardless of their form San Paulo will be filled with ultras at their back urging them to victory, so the first leg might come a bit easier. Hopefully there will be a change of form soon so that we may witness the best each of these clubs has to offer.
Barcelona… there’s little more that needs to be said about the historic club. Doubting them is fatal, as is opposing them on the pitch. The Blaugrana have found their form and are back to terrorizing defenders and goalkeepers alike. Messi is still a god among men and Suarez, Griezmann, and de Jong are all providing wonderful support. ter Stegen still stops most of what comes at him and youngster Ansu Fati headlines a deep reserve unit for late game situational football. It goes without saying that the Spaniards are favored in the competition when Messi is healthy.
1st Leg: Napoli 1-2 Barcelona
2nd Leg: Barcelona 3-0 Napoli
Aggregate: Napoli 1-5 Barcelona